Their Race Across America takes international bicycle teams through the middle of Kansas.
When Kari Rouvinen of Helsinki, Finland turned 60 years old on June 16, he was likely just entering Kansas on his bicycle. Rouvinen and his support team passed through the middle of Pratt Monday night, part of the 2019 Race Across America, a 3,069.25 miles cross county bicycle race from the Pacific Ocean at Oceanside, Calif. to the Atlantic Ocean, 34 miles past Annapolis, Md. Every year, this ultimate challenge of endurance draws men and women riding solo or in teams of two, four and eight who test their physical and mental endurance as they tackle this grueling event.
Pratt is one of the RAAM time stations and every rider passes through on U.S. 54 as they head eastward. Pratt is about half way through the race. When riders reach Pratt, they have traveled 1,543.21 miles and have 1,526.04 miles to go.
Rouvinen was fourth in his age group when he reached Pratt. He left Oceanside, Calif. on June 11, beginning his trek eastward on a journey that would take him across a desert, mountains, plains, forests, straight and winding roads.
Rouvinen’s crew greeted him with waving Finnish flags when he pulled into the Pratt Walmart parking lot to get some sleep. The bike team is very scheduled and Rouvinen would take just three or four hours of sleep then get back on the road, said his crew chief Matti Ainasoja.
The crew has a motor home and an SUV that carries everything the rider needs along the journey. The SUV follows the rider with lights flashing to alert drivers that a bicyclist is on the road. Each SUV displays the riders number, plus other RAAM identification.
In 2015, he made history as he became the first Finn to test RAAM. He was not able to finish the race that year. His goal this year is to be the first Finn to make it to Annapolis.
In the Race Across America, riders burn 10,000 calories a day and have to deal with all kinds of weather, in addition to the dangers of riding on highways.
The race through a desert in Arizona took a toll on Rouvinen. The temperature reached 115 degrees. To make sure he got through the desert, Rouvinen rode for 28 hours straight and covered a total of 400 miles. When he stopped for rest, Rouvinen’s crew helped him off his bike, that weighs just 17.637 pounds. He went in the motor home and went to sleep as his crew checked his bike and got it ready for him to get back on the road.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Rouvinen. He was having problems with his neck and upper back in Pratt and had a hard time holding his head up. Ainasoja said he now has to wear a neck support when riding.
Part of the duty of the crew is to decide what the rider should do and when to do it so they can just focus on riding.
“We decide everything for him, when to eat, when to sleep,” Ainasoja said. “We push him to do it, to push harder.”
Sometimes a rider will want to stop and rest or sleep but the team says “no” and they push the rider to keep going.
Rouvinen is currently averaging just over 10 mph each day. When he started the race, he was hitting over 15 mph., but the long trip through Arizona drew that number down to 11 mph and he finally set a 10 mph pace in Colorado.
Rouvinen has made little progress since he left Pratt. He was predicted to arrive in Maize, the next time station in Kansas, a little before 7 a.m. on Wednesday. But according to online race status information he has yet to check in at any of the update sites. He is still listed in the race.
Three of the eight entrants in Rouvinen’s 60-69 age catagory have already had to withdraw from the race.
Rouvinen has a seven-member support crew traveling with him on this 3,069-mile-plus journey. In addition to Ainasoja, there are Viiki Shemeikka, Pekka Aaltio, Kimmo Kyttala, Pauli Rouvinen, Anniina Saaranluoma and Mika Kukkonen. All are from Finland.
For more information on RAAM, visit the website www.raceacrossamerica.org.